It’s Date Night, Do You Know Where Your Birth Control Implant Is?

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implanonIf you were considering getting a birth control implant like Implanon or its newest version, Nexplanon, you might want to check out these disturbing reports out of Great Britain first. Not only does the contraception have questionable levels of accuracy, it’s getting lost in women’s bodies. Even better, its makers aren’t providing much in the way of comfort to women who are concerned.

Implanon is a small matchstick-like implant placed underneath the skin in the fat layer of the arm. There, it releases hormones that stop ovulation. It’s supposed to last up to five years, but can be removed at any time. Implanon must be placed and removed by a doctor, so it’s not like these ladies are just shooting themselves up wrong.

The first complaints about the product came when hundreds of women who received the implant found themselves surprisingly pregnant. People normally get angry with contraception that doesn’t actually keep you from conceiving. According the government agency that monitors and tracks medical devices, there were almost 600 reported pregnancies from women using Implanon. That was last year’s problem.

Now, women are having a hard time tracking the implants down to have the removed. The device is supposed to be held in place by the fat layer in the arm. Instead, some of the devices are migrating. Because the original implants contained nothing that allows them to show up on an x-ray, the small pieces of plastic were basically lost. Women were getting MRIs to try to track the things down to have them removed when they decided they were ready for kids.

A new version of the implant contains barium, so that x-rays will be able to make sure that the implant was placed properly. This new version is called Nexplanon and it’s available in both the UK and the US, though Implanon hasn’t been recalled or removed from the market either.

For me, the scariest part of this whole controversy might be the drug manufacturer’s response. Implanon is created by a pharmaceutical company that is owned by Merck. A spokesperson for the company merely had this to say in the face of the serious concerns about their product, “On the rare occasion the implant can’t be located, there is a process for the healthcare professional to follow and they can contact the manufacturer.” That’s the PR equivalent of a “NBD.” It’s funny, because there seem to be a lot of women in great Britain who would like to know exactly what the manufacturer is going to do about the missing matchstick floating around inside of them releasing hormones.

The lackluster and underwhelming response from a company whose product might not work and could get lost somewhere in your body doesn’t exactly stoke confidence in their ability to rectify the situation. Not that pharmaceutical companies have always been bastions of ethical business dealings and care for the customers – they realize you have no where else to turn and they exploit that fact – but this response seems blase even by the reduced standards of drugmakers.

In case Merck was wondering, most women take their birth control, it’s effectiveness and it’s safety pretty seriously. Remember when Pfizer had to recall ineffective birth control and people wanted to sue them if they got pregnant because of it? This really isn’t one of the issues where sitting back and seeing what happens sounds like a great plan. One this is for sure, if Merck is this relaxed about their problems with Implanon, I’m much less likely to trust Nexplanon should I be in the market for birth control again.

(Photo: Mayo Clinic)